Cheswick Volunteer Fire Department is exploring whether a potential merger with neighboring departments could save money and improve services.
“We don’t want to duplicate the services, duplicate the equipment,” said Nino Pollino, president of the Cheswick department.
Cheswick has asked the state Department of Community and Economic Development to study whether it would be beneficial for the volunteer department to merge or share services with Allegheny Valley Fire Company, which serves Harmar and Springdale townships. Pollino said he plans to reach out to Springdale Volunteer Fire Company to gauge its interest in being part of the study.
There is no cost to the local communities.
“We’re still in the early stages,” Pollino said. “I just believe it’s something we should be considering.”
Pollino’s department responds to many calls outside Cheswick. Last year, Cheswick responded to about 60 calls, and 40 of them were to offer mutual aid in neighboring municipalities, according to Pollino. Cheswick has 30 to 40 members on its roster, with about half serving as active firefighters.
Pollino said he approached Allegheny Valley first because of its experience with mergers. Allegheny Valley was created in 2012 through the merger of volunteer departments in Springdale Township and Harmar.
Chuck Miller, president of Allegheny Valley Fire Company, said he is interested in seeing what the state’s recommendations are.
“There’s a lot of pros around cost-sharing and not duplicating equipment,” Miller said. “We’re already working together.”
The departments provide mutual aid on calls across the Lower Valley, so they often show up at the same scenes.
Springdale Chief Kevin Wilhelm declined to comment, noting his department hasn’t received a formal request from Cheswick and he doesn’t want to comment publicly until his company can discuss the matter.
Cheswick and Allegheny Valley rely largely on donations and fundraising to remain in operation. The borough of Cheswick provides some funding for the department’s repair costs, worker’s compensation and other expenses.
Allegheny Valley receives an annual allocation from Harmar and Springdale townships, but Miller said 99 percent of the department’s budget is covered by donations.
Pollino said merging or sharing more services could help with recruiting volunteers. He said Cheswick’s roster is getting older and the department has trouble attracting recruits. Having a larger department covering a bigger area could be more attractive to people who want to volunteer.
Pollino said the study needs to be done, even if the departments involved ultimately decide not to pursue a merger or formal service-sharing agreement.
“I think the merger discussion has been going on for years,” Pollino said. “A lot of it is just having the right people at the right time that are open to discussion. All parties have to be open to it.”